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Later School Start Puts Summer Camps In 'A Tight Spot'

Missouri schools will start much closer to Labor Day beginning in 2020, creating a dilemma for many working parents: What to do with the kids?

Some have already begun asking summer camps whether they’ll stretch their season longer next summer. Yet camp organizers warn they may struggle to keep costs down for families while providing enough counselors to lead activities for two extra weeks. 

Missouri lawmakers amended the school calendar law this year, no longer allowing exemptions for schools to begin before Aug. 24. The change will result in about two more weeks of summer vacation in August compared with the mid-month start most districts currently have.

Lawmakers touted the benefits of more time with family for late summer trips, along with a boost for the state’s economy. The change was championed by the tourism industry and rural chambers of commerce hoping to entice families to squeeze in one more show in Branson or a float down the Current River.

Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, called the decision of lawmakers and tourism boosters shortsighted.

“So while it was great perhaps for tourism, it put us in a tight situation,” he said.

Day camps cost on average $200 to $800 a week, according to the American Camp Association, an industry group. The Boys & Girls Club can be a low-cost option. Some camps offered by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis are free, while others cost $250 or $275 for the entire summer for members. 

Most of the children coming to the clubs are from lower- and middle-income families, Fowler said.

“They’re not the families that have condos or lake houses or the ability to take multiple excursions during the summer,” he said.

Adding two more weeks of camp will raise operating costs, Fowler said, pushing the clubs to “not only try to stretch the dollars, but we may have to pass — even though it’s a small amount — some of that cost back to families.”

Abby Hardrick does cartwheels in front of fellow campers at the Carondelet Park YMCA Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.
Credit Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Abby Hardrick does cartwheels in front of fellow campers at the Carondelet Park YMCA.

Staff at the Gateway Region YMCA is already having talks about making changes to next year’s calendar. They’re in the final week of summer camps at YMCAs in the St. Louis area, before school resumes next week in most communities. 

“We do know that we need to provide some kind of service and we want to make sure we’re there and available for our families,” said Laurie McTearnen, vice president of child care services for the Y. 

Elongating summer programs could present a challenge in finding enough counselors to supervise arts and crafts and swim lessons.

“It’s kind of a double-edged (sword) here for us,” McTearnen said, “because the YMCA relies on a lot of part-time staff to be our camp counselors in the summer, and as they get ready to go back to college and leave the St. Louis region, we lose a majority of our college students.”

Tourism is a $17 billion industry in Missouri, according to the Missouri Division of Tourism, with 43% of business generated by Missourians themselves, who spend about $100 per day while exploring the state. All those numbers are on the rise, according to the tourism bureau.

School leaders say the new restrictions on school calendars will require some collegiate-level calculus to fit in the required instruction and midterm exams before Christmas break and warn school may stretch past Memorial Day if there are snow days.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.